How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Washington, D.C.
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Filing for bankruptcy doesn’t have to be scary and confusing. We provide helpful tips and resources to help you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy in your state without a lawyer.
Written by Attorney Andrea Wimmer.
Updated February 9, 2022
Washington, D.C. is our nation’s capital, which helps contribute to the high cost of living there. This can make every day a financial struggle for many people who work and live in this city. Sometimes this struggle can lead to debts that can’t be paid back. Depending on your financial situation, you may want to consider debt-relief options other than bankruptcy. But none of these provide the same opportunity for a fresh start as filing bankruptcy.
Yet filing bankruptcy costs money. Luckily, there are ways to save money during the bankruptcy process, such as handling it without a bankruptcy attorney. That’s why we made this guide, to provide an overview of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process and how to get your debts discharged without hiring a lawyer.
Bankruptcy can happen to anyone, whether they’re in the posh neighborhood of Georgetown or living in a more affordable suburb in Maryland. Filing bankruptcy in the District might seem like a sign that you did something wrong. But in reality, it’s simply a financial tool for getting back on your feet and moving on with your life.
How To File Bankruptcy for Free in Washington, D.C.
Two of the biggest bankruptcy costs are the court filing fee ($338 for Chapter 7 and $313 for filing Chapter 13) and hiring a bankruptcy attorney. If your monthly income falls below a certain level, you may qualify to have this filing fee waived.
As for hiring an attorney, you can save a lot of money by handling your Chapter 7 bankruptcy case without one. The following steps will show you how this is possible.
Collect Your D.C. Bankruptcy Documents
To file bankruptcy in Washington, D.C., you’ll need to provide a lot of financial information on bankruptcy forms. To complete those forms, it’s helpful to gather several financial documents to make sure you provide accurate and complete information. Whether you file with or without an attorney, you’ll need at least the following documents to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy:
Your last 60 days’ worth of paycheck stubs.
Your income tax returns from the last two years.
While it’s not required, it’s also helpful to have bank statements from the past 6-12 months. These will help you figure out your living expenses. After filing, you’ll also need to provide a bank statement that covers the filing date to your trustee.
It’s also a good idea to get a copy of your credit report. This contains information that can help you identify your creditors and lenders to the bankruptcy court. It doesn’t take long to get a free copy of your report. You’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). If you use Upsolve’s free filing tool to file your bankruptcy, it will pull your credit report for you.
Finally, try to get copies of any creditor statements, credit card bills, and letters from collection agencies and third-party debt collectors. Along with your credit report, these can help you identify your creditors and their contact information.
Take a Credit Counseling Course
You must complete a credit counseling course in the 180 days before your bankruptcy filing. The purpose of this class is to let you know about your debt relief options that don’t involve bankruptcy. This class isn’t free, but you can apply for a fee waiver if you can’t afford the fee.
But before you sign up for a class, make sure you find a class that’s been approved for filers in Washington, D.C. And keep in mind that many of these classes are offered online or by telephone. When you’re done with the class, you’ll get a certificate of completion that you’ll give the court when you file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
Complete the Bankruptcy Forms
No matter the type of bankruptcy you file, you’ll have to complete a variety of forms and disclose financial information, such as your debts and income. Most of these forms are the same no matter where in the United States you file.
If you hire a lawyer to handle your case, they’ll probably ask you to give them copies of your financial documents and to fill out a questionnaire. Your lawyer (or someone from their office) will take the information you provided to complete the forms.
If you file with Upsolve’s web app, it’ll prepare the forms for you based on the information you gave when you filled out an online questionnaire. If you’re filling out the forms yourself, you can get fillable PDFs of the forms for free from the United States Courts website.
Get Your Filing Fee
Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Washington, D.C. costs $338. You need to pay the filing fee in full when you file your bankruptcy petition, with two exceptions:
The first exception is you receive a fee waiver. You can apply for this fee waiver when filing your forms if your income falls below the 150% federal poverty level guidelines (see the Washington, D.C. Fee Waiver Eligibility table below).
The second exception is you pay your filing fee in several installment payments. To do this, you’ll first need to get court approval by completing Official Form 103A and submitting it with the rest of your forms. If the court grants your request, make careful note of the amount and due date of each payment. If you miss a payment, you risk the court dismissing your case.
Some filers choose to pay the filing fee in installments because they need to file bankruptcy quickly to take advantage of the automatic stay. This can come in handy if you’re facing wage garnishment or need to temporarily stop some of your creditors’ debt collection efforts. But if filing quickly isn’t important, it’s often best to either file with a fee waiver or save enough money to pay the entire filing fee when you file bankruptcy.
Print Your Bankruptcy Forms
You’ll need to print out hard copies of your bankruptcy forms to both sign and file with the court. If you have a computer and printer, this shouldn’t be a problem. If you don’t have access to a computer and printer, then you may need to visit the local public library, an office supply store, or another retailer that offers printing services. If possible, print out two copies of your forms. It’ll be helpful to refer back to what you filed with the court later on in the bankruptcy process.
When you print out your forms, make sure your forms are printed:
In black ink on white paper
One side to each page
On letter-size paper (8.5” x 11”)
Also, be sure to keep track of all the forms so you don’t have pages out of order or missing. You can refer to a bankruptcy forms checklist to help you with this. And if you file with Upsolve, you’ll receive an electronic packet with all your forms and special dividers in place to help keep things in order and let you know where to sign.
Regardless of who completes your forms or how you get them printed, you must ensure the information contained on them is truthful and accurate and sign the forms confirming this. If it turns out you lied, you could be liable for perjury.
File Your Forms With the D.C. Bankruptcy Court
The federal court system has an electronic system in place for the filing of documents, but it’s only available to attorneys. So if you need to file your forms, you’ll generally have to do it in person or by mail. While you can have someone else drop your papers off for you, do it yourself in-person, if possible. That way, if there are any problems with your filing, you’ll know immediately, and you can possibly fix the problem right then and there. Because the courthouse is a federal building, be ready to go through a security checkpoint before you get to the clerk’s office.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia may have special policies in place to make it easier to file your documents. For example, there may be an option to email your forms or drop them off at a physical drop box near the courthouse. To confirm what these coronavirus accommodations are, please visit the court’s COVID-19 page.
Mail Documents to Your Trustee
Part of the Chapter 7 bankruptcy process involves the court assigning your case a trustee. The trustee’s job is to make sure you follow the Washington, D.C. bankruptcy rules and procedures. This includes making sure the financial information you submit to the court is accurate and complete. This means you’ll need to send the following information to your bankruptcy trustee at least seven days before your 341 creditor’s meeting:
Federal income tax returns from the last two years.
Bank statements for open accounts at the time you filed bankruptcy.
After filing, you’ll need the bank statements that covers the time period that includes the date you filed the bankruptcy. So if you file your case on January 15th, you can print a bank statement for January 1-31st.
In most cases, you’ll get a letter from the trustee assigned to your case that explains what they need from you. Be sure to follow the instructions from your trustee, as federal law requires your cooperation with them to get your debts discharged.
Take a Debtor Education Course
You had to take a financial class to file bankruptcy, and now you’ll have to take a second class to get your debts discharged. This second class must be approved for Washington, D.C. filers and it covers personal financial management topics to help you make the best financial decisions once your bankruptcy is complete.
There’s no set timeframe for when you must take this class, except that it needs to be done within 60 days of the 341 meeting of creditors. That said, you can take the course any time after you’ve filed your bankruptcy paperwork with the course.
Some people choose to do it before the 341 meeting, so they’re done with the requirements at the end of the meeting. If you fail to meet the deadline to complete this course, the court could close your case without discharging any of your debts. After you’re done with the class, you’ll need to send the certificate of completion to the court.. Sometimes your class provider will do it for you, but if not, you can file this certification yourself.
Attend Your 341 Meeting
All Chapter 7 filers must attend this meeting. Sometimes called a meeting of creditors or a creditors’ meeting, its purpose is to give the trustee a chance to confirm your identity and ask you questions about your finances. The meeting is supposed to benefit the creditors, but they often don’t attend. As long as you’ve been truthful on your bankruptcy forms and you answer the trustee’s questions fully and honestly, you have nothing to worry about. This meeting sounds scary, but it’s usually done in less than 20 minutes.
In addition to answering the trustee’s questions, you’ll need to bring your picture ID and acceptable proof of your Social Security number. If you’re nervous about this meeting, it might help to take some steps to prepare for it. Once you’re done with the 341 meeting, it’s on to the next step of the bankruptcy process.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, all 341 meetings are currently being held virtually instead of in person, but this could change. Check with the court or your trustee to confirm how your 341 meeting will be taking place.
Dealing with Your Car
The D.C. Metro is a great public transportation system. But if you have a motor vehicle, there’s probably a good reason for driving instead of relying on the metro. So you might be relieved to know that bankruptcy law gives you several options to keep your car. These options depend on if and how the car is financed, if it’s subject to a lease or car loan, and whether you have equity in the car. This means you own it outright, or it’s worth more than what’s still owed under a car loan.
If you’re leasing your car and you want to return it, you’ll need to talk to your lessor and/or refer to the terms of your lease to see how that process works. If you want to keep your leased vehicle, you’ll continue making payments on it as usual and tell the court of your plan with a Statement of Intentions.
If you have a car loan and your vehicle has positive equity, then you can keep your car as long as its value is less than the applicable exemption for personal vehicles (which is $2,575). You also need to stay current with your monthly car payments. If your vehicle has negative equity (meaning you owe more on the car than it’s worth) and you don’t want it anymore, then you can surrender it. This allows you to get rid of the vehicle and stop making car payments on it. Then once your bankruptcy is complete, you can get another vehicle.
Regardless of your vehicle’s equity status, you can keep it if you’re willing and able to continue making the monthly payments and enter into a reaffirmation agreement. Alternatively, you can pay its current market value and erase whatever balance is left under the car loan. This is called redemption, and the catch is that it requires you to purchase your vehicle in one lump sum.
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Means Test
Chapter 7 bankruptcy is only available to filers who meet the applicable income limits. To see if a filer meets these limits, courts will apply a means test. This test first looks at how your household median income compares to similar households in Washington, D.C. So the means test is specific for the state you’re filing in.
If you fail this first part of the test, you can still file for bankruptcy under Chapter 7 of the Bankruptcy Code. But you’ll need to pass the second part of the means test, which looks at other financial information, such as your monthly expenses and payments for certain liabilities you’d have to pay back in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
Data on Median income levels for Washington, D.C.
District Of Columbia Median Income Standards for Means Test for Cases Filed In 2023
|Household Size||Monthly Income||Annual Income|
Data on Poverty levels for Washington, D.C.
District Of Columbia Fee Waiver Eligibility for Cases Filed In 2023
Eligible for fee waiver when under 150% the poverty level.
|Household Size||State Poverty Level||Fee Waiver Limit (150% PL)|
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Forms
Many of the forms you’ll need for Chapter 7 bankruptcy are the same across the country and are available for free online. But depending on the facts of your case, there might be some local forms that are specific to Washington, D.C.
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Washington, D.C. District & Filing Requirements
Most states are divided into multiple districts, with their own specific rules and procedures for filing. But given Washington, D.C.’s size, it has only one district. You can file by mail or in-person and pay your filing fee by cashier’s check, certified check, cash, or money order.
If you want to pay your filing fee in installments, you’ll need to request court approval by submitting Official Form 103A. If approved, you can expect your first payment to be around $60 to $65, with the remaining three payments being around $90 to $95 each. Any changes to filing requirements due to the coronavirus can be found on the court’s COVID-19 announcement page.
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Exemptions
In theory, part of the bankruptcy process involves selling assets to pay off creditors. But there are special laws called exemptions that protect certain assets. Bankruptcy filers can keep these exempt assets. The goal of exemptions is to prevent filers from having to start from scratch when they begin their new financial life after bankruptcy. Exemptions also exist to prevent excessive financial hardship. For example, D.C. filers can exempt alimony and child support payments, as well as tools used for work. Property not covered by an exemption is referred to as non-exempt property.
Washington, D.C. bankruptcy filers can choose between the federal exemptions and the District of Columbia exemptions. Which you choose will depend on what assets you’re trying to protect. For instance, if you want to keep your home and prevent foreclosure, but your home has a large amount of equity, you might choose the D.C. exemptions as they have a more generous homestead exemption. For example, D.C. allows you to exempt all of the equity in your home, as long as you and your family use that home as your primary residence. In contrast, the federal homestead exemption is just $25,150. And no matter which exemptions you choose, you’ll still have access to a wildcard exemption, which can be used on any type of personal property.
Washington, D.C. Bankruptcy Lawyer Cost
If you’re dealing with a more complex bankruptcy, it might be worth considering hiring an attorney. Most lawyers handling Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases charge a flat fee, and in D.C. bankruptcy attorneys will charge between $995 and $3,500. The exact amount will depend on how complicated your case is. One thing to keep in mind is that what the attorney charges should just be one factor in deciding who to hire to handle your case.
Washington, D.C. Legal Aid Organizations
Although it’s possible to handle your Chapter 7 bankruptcy yourself, you may not feel comfortable doing so. And hiring an attorney might not be possible. To accommodate these situations, Washington, D.C. has several legal aid organizations that offer free or low-cost legal advice to people who need a little bit of extra help with their bankruptcies. Below are some legal aid organizations serving the Washington, D.C. area.
Neighborhood Legal Services Program of the District of Columbia
64 New York Avenue, NE Ste 180, Washington, DC 20002
Nationwide Service (NYC Office)
District of Columbia Court Locations
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue Washington, DC 20001
District of Columbia Judges
District Of Columbia Bankruptcy Judges
|District of Columbia||Hon. S. Martin Teel|
District of Columbia Trustees
District Of Columbia Trustees
|Marc E. Albert|
|Bryan S. Ross|
|Wendell W. Webster|
|William D. White|